By TODD STACY and MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday said Alabama’s social distancing measures appear to be slowing the spread of the coronavirus, but it is too soon say when shuttered businesses could reopen.
Ivey expects to have recommendations by Friday from a small business task force chaired by Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth about how and when to allow different types of companies to resume operations.
“And, as everybody knows, this is not a simple process like flipping on a light switch,” Ivey said.
Ivey said she’s also asked the state’s congressional delegation to report on the unique economic situations facing each of Alabama’s seven congressional districts.
Ivey and State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said the latest information on infection cases and travel patterns show the stay-home-order issued earlier this month is working. They did not give a timeline for when residents could expect businesses to open back up, and in fact Ivey issued a stern warning about taking the state’s progress for granted.
“Now is not the time to let our guard down and pretend like things are back to normal,” she said, after thanking Alabama citizens for taking the order to heart.
“All indicators suggest that it is working,” she said. “It is imperative that we keep doing what we are doing.”
Some lawmakers and business groups have recently suggested that the state’s current stay-at-home order, in place until the end of the month, disproportionately impacts smaller businesses, while big box stores are allowed to remain open.
Alabama Retail Association spokesperson Nancy Dennis said her trade group “isn’t waiting until Friday” to offer recommendations on how smaller store could reopen. The group’s president, Rick Brown, is a part of Ainsworth’s commission.
“In two to three weeks, many small retailers will be closed permanently, rather than temporarily,” Dennis told Alabama Daily News. “Their first concern is the health of their employees and their customers, but many are willing to use (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and other health guidelines to open their doors and ease the overcrowding that is occurring at the larger stores currently allowed to be open.”
Asked about the situation during her news conference, Ivey acknowledged some potential disparity and said resolving those kind of issues should be the goal of commission members.
“As you can imagine, I’m getting a lot of advice – a lot of free advice – on what we could do, should do or must do to get our economy going again,” Ivey said. “But my staff and I are taking every suggestion seriously and we’re looking at it, and we’ve had some good ones come in already.”
A record 106,000 Alabamians applied for unemployment claims in the week of March 29 to April 4 and a loss of income and sales tax revenues will impact the state’s future operating budgets.
According to the Alabama Department of Public Health on Tuesday afternoon, more than 3,800 people in Alabama have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. There have been 110 deaths reported to be from the illness, and 73 of those were confirmed by the department as of Tuesday afternoon. A total of 493 Alabamians have been hospitalized.
Harris said he is confident the state will have enough available intensive care beds and ventilator units, but that he’s worried about a shortage of personal protective equipment, or PPE, going forward.
“It’s a day-by-day calculation. Right now, our best calculations on ventilators is that we’re okay,” Harris said. “We believe the capacity in the state, which includes some that we have acquired and some that should be here any minute, will cover the number of people who are going to need those, particularly with our hospitals being pretty good at sharing with each other.
“PPE is a different issue altogether. There is a worldwide shortage of PPE, as you know. The supply lines have completely changed and it is difficult for everyone, everywhere to get PPE. We find ourselves competing with other states for the same limited supply of PPE.”
Harris said that as more average citizens feel compelled to wear masks and gloves in public, there might not be enough to go around.
“I think that’s going to be an issue as we open the economy up,” Harris said. “We have been able to track some things down. We made a significant purchase, or placed an order, over the last weekend that we look to get in the next few days.”